Horner, Chris Lewis and why Lampre should never have signed the Vuelta winner in the first place

this article originally appeared on The Roar in February, but in light of Horner being pulled from the Vuelta by Lampre (for reasons explained by Gregor Brown here), I think it’s timely to re-post.

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This isn’t a new story. It’s been kicking around now since the end of January.

Yet there’s been very little commentary written on the deal that will see last year’s surprise Vuelta a Espana winner of 2013, Chris Horner, twinkling his little magic toes all over the World Tour again this year.

I haven’t written more than a dozen words on Horner, ever, and I wasn’t going to write anything this time. You may be of the camp that thinks ‘Good on him’ – after all there aren’t many 41-year-olds who’ve won a Grand Tour for the first time in their life.

Well, there has never been another, in fact.

The magnitude of Horner’s feat did not go unnoticed, though the reaction to it was a little less in awe than I’m sure he would have wished.

The cycling forums went mad with all kinds of allegations and suspicions that were largely to be expected.

Horner’s win though came at a point in the history of this sport when older riders were suddenly finding themselves without contracts in greater numbers than ever before.

If you were older and had any kind of suspicion of doping infringements lingering around you, like Luis Leon Sanchez, then boom, you were cut loose and cast into the wilderness.

Horner was rumoured to be going to Christina Watches for some time until the news that he was being welcomed on to Lampre-Merida, a move that some in the UCI would have been less than thrilled by.

See, there is something about Horner that just doesn’t smell right. I’m not saying anything new there, but it’s still worth looking over the reasons why for a moment.

First of all, a little known rider (outside of the USA) named Matt DiCanio went on record as far back as 2005 to say that another rider, Phil Zajicek, was offered help to purchase EPO and HGH when both rode for the American professional team Saturn.

DiCanio has also gone on record to say that Horner once said many years ago “It isn’t cheating if everyone is doing it.”

Secondly, Horner’s blood values from the 2013 Vuelta “fit with the patterns that anti-doping authorities look for as a sign of cheating.” Not my words, those of Michael Puchowicz in Outside Magazine.

The article states that Hornet’s hemoglobin concentration is simply too high to be natural. The other marker is the lowered reticulocyte count which is another sign of the use of EPO.

Puchowicz’s observations were seen by Shane Stokes of VeloNation, who passed them on to anti-doping authority Robin Parisotto, who works with the Athlete Passport Management Unit in Lausanne, France.

“It is not 100 percent clear that there is anything untoward happening,” Parisotto told Velonation, “[but] there’s certainly unusual patterns.”

He compares Horner’s bio passport to other profiles he has seen working as an anti-doping authority and concludes that “…most of those that come across to us are suspicious. Most are there for a reason. What I have seen with this particular profile is similar to those other profiles.”

Why didn’t the UCI investigate this? No idea.

Is any of this enough reason to suspend Horner? My gut says no, but if an anti-doping authority is stating that Horner’s values are suspicious why isn’t the UCI investigating?

One person who is probably asking himself these very questions and who has far more of a divested interest in all this than just about anyone else is another American rider – or should I say ex-rider – Craig Lewis.

Some of you may remember the now 29-year-old rider, who has just announced his retirement.

At 19, riding in the Tour de Georgia, Lewis was hit by a car and suffered two punctured lungs, internal bleeding and several fractures all over his body, almost passing away as a result.

Months of recovery followed before he returned to the pro ranks with Slipstream before moving on to HTC, where he won the team time trial at the 2011 Giro d’Italia. Days before the end of that race he broke a femur, forcing him out and eventually on to the Pro Continental Champion Systems team, which folded just last year.

Then he got a berth on the Lampre-Merida team. Well, he would have had a place there, had the management not decided to go and sign a 41-year-old American called Chris Horner.

The same guy who says he saw no doping on Bruyneel’s teams, the same guy who defended Armstrong until it became impossible even for his greatest apologists to do so, the same guy about whom all those rumours have been flying around.

“I thought we had already hit rock bottom, but it keeps going down,” Lewis said in an interview recently with Cyclingnews. “The sport just doesn’t market itself, and it needs some big changes – a lot has to happen for the sport to be appealing for companies to sponsor. It’s not sustainable the way it is.”

With riders like Horner still finding places to ply their trade, you’d have to agree with Lewis.

8 comments

  1. doctornurse

    Meh… As you say, this is not a new story and I would add that it is neither interesting, nor compelling. Look, I think that we can all accept that both Chris Horner and Jens Voigt, who came of age in the EPO era, (and in the case of Jens, grew up in the East German cycling system where doping was like breathing) have at LEAST seen, (and very likely took) some form of doping at LEAST once over the past 20+ years. I mean, they were in some of the dirtiest teams imaginable, and no way good team men like them were doing it on pan y acqua- ALL knowledgeable cyclists can see that right?

    Okay, so apart from Jens incredible engine, Horner’s amazing powers of recovery and their exceptional cycling brains, they also share several other talents including a keen sense of realism and serious intelligence- Its what has kept them in the peloton all this time.

    Ergo, they both are (a) Aware enough that as long as they remain “loveable old cycling characters” they will have a nice career in cycling after they retire. (b) Experienced enough to see what happens to cyclists who admit to doping after they retire- They get solid, interesting gigs pulled from under them (Jalabert, Barry, Matt white temporarily and Julich to name a few) and have to spend lots of time and money dealing with a lot of hassle and lawyers and whatever else and (c) Smart enough to know that in terms of a gig after they retire (which still leaves them, what? 40 more years to make a living doing SOMETHING and all they know is cycling) silence is golden….

    Additionally, Horner has seen first hand how speaking out can get you hosed- I seem to remember that he was a vocal critic of the US Olypic team selection and consistently got shafted from that little experience where Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton did not. Also, he saw up close how Lance in his pomp could utterly DESTROY people and even ruin their wonderful little bike companies. Then look at a cat like Levi Leipheimer who is now an almost total Pariah. Hincapie is a team owner, but he has Ochowich and his connections (With USPS and then with BMC) to thank for that , so what was the upside for them of speaking out? None…

    So of course they are not going to screw themselves over by admitting to what they saw or did or heard- Why should they? they are not under suspicion at the moment, are enjoying a long and pleasant winter of their carreers, both have good lines for well paid, post cycling gigs, and are not interested in building bikes in their dad’s bike shop (Barry), or riding the odd cyclosportif (Ullrich)…

    So meh…. Are they probably old dopers? Probably, based purely on the “lay down with dogs and get up with fleas” theory. Does it matter? Maybe, it certainly does not NOT matter, but should we be sending our time analysing this?

    Maybe after the Vuelta, which has all the makings of a classic, and hopefully will be as outwardly clean as the Giro and TdF, which would add to the spectacle…

    I’m just sayin’….

    • crankpunk

      not everyone watching is ‘knowledgeable’ and even then, some of those wise old bikers still defend guys like Horner all the way to the line. there was as far as i could tell no single piece that tied all the problems with Horner together with Chris Lewis getting bumped for him, so that it what this is.

    • Semilog

      “Hornet’s hemoglobin concentration is simply too high to be natural…”

      The thing is, that in nature there’s always a range, and some people are at the tails of the distribution. This family, for example: http://www.pnas.org/content/90/10/4495.full.pdf

      The proband [Eero Antero Mäntyranta], a 53-year-old male, whose Hb level has been 200 g/liter or greater since childhood (last measurement, 236 g/liter), has been one of the best cross- countryskiersintheworld, having won three Olympic gold medals and two world championships…

      High RBC counts, elevated through the EPO pathway… entirely natural. So what do we do with someone like this? Ban him?

  2. Phil Holman

    Why pick on an individual like Horner? Really, isn’t there enough suspicion still in the peloton to be concerned about the whole sport? I could name a whole list for you to go after, Froome would probably be at the top. The new winners are under suspicion because they won. Sound reasonable? As for the bio profile process, the high priest of said process will decide who comes under closer scrutiny. Sound reasonable? Sheeesh!
    Make it a rules driven sport with passing a drug test as definition of being within the rules and quit all of this speculative BS and drama.

    • crankpunk

      it’s not ‘picking on individuals’, this article is about Horner and pointing out what us known about him to those who don’t know. your argument sounds very much like the same made when people questioned Lance. he passed all the tests too, except the ones the UCI buried.

      • Phil Holman

        And so did almost everyone else in the peloton. At least there were checks and balances even though there were loopholes in the detection process. Better to fix those than to have the subjective assessment of an individual to decide if the patterns are unusual enough. What does that mean exactly (rhetorical question)? What is known about him roughly translates to what speculative muck can be spread about him. Its irresponsible and unnecessary but it sells copy if that’s the goal. Some people don’t have a lot of food on the table, but they’ve got a lot of knives and forks, so they’ve got to cut something (Bod Dylan).

      • nancy

        Why do you pick Horner instead of Danielson, Hesjedal? I can’t win MTB worlds but i can win the Giro without drugs? You can also Schleck, thomas Dekker, basso, Ulissi, Contador to the list that tested positive and teams were happy to sign them.

        The whole sport is corrupted or polluted, from the top level to even the cat 3 level. And if Craig Lewis is serious about finfing a pro team, he had to get results with champ system. Continental guys were better than him in Colorado.

  3. Phil Holman

    I’ll just add this comment to the whole issue of drug testing. It doesn’t matter what the form or method of the test is, it will have margins of error which the peloton will quickly discover and reset their doping regimen to avoid detection (profiles not 100% clear was the phrase). IMO, its still going on judging by all the suspicious profiles but maybe at a much reduced dosage. Ooops, did Tierman-Locke get the dosage wrong? No I’m not singling him out, he’s already been busted. But I am questioning the whole peloton and the adequacy of the new test.

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